Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Miss. highway patrol faces trooper shortage-170 below full strength

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JACKSON, Miss. Dec 28 2016— The Mississippi Highway Patrol, tasked with patrolling more than 8,100 miles of state and federal highways across Mississippi, is currently operating at 170 troopers below its full force.
State law allows the Highway Patrol to have up to 650 "sworn troopers." The agency currently has 480 and of that number, 328 are assigned to the traffic patrol division, according to John Poulos, director of the public affairs division of the Highway Patrol. Other officers, such as those with the S.W.A.T. division and the Special Operations Group, also perform duties on the roads.
Chris Gillard, director of the Mississippi Highway Patrol, said in a recent interview one of his goals in the coming year is to increase the number of troopers in the state law enforcement agency. In addition to being below capacity, 149 of the existing troopers are eligible to retire.
In an emailed response, Poulos said, "Currently Mississippi is experiencing a dramatic increase in traffic crash injuries and fatalities. Manpower issues within MHP affect response times involving traffic crash investigations and traffic enforcement. It has been necessary in some districts to assign one trooper to cover and patrol two to three counties within the district."
With the state facing sluggish revenue collections and the specter of additional budget cuts during the upcoming 2017 session, starting Jan. 3, the odds of the Highway Patrol obtaining relief during the 2017 session are not good.
Neither Gov. Phil Bryant nor the members of the Legislative Budget Committee include a trooper school in their budget proposals submitted for consideration during the 2017 session. The Budget Committee consists of Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, Speaker Philip Gunn and other members of the legislative leadership.
In his proposal, Bryant said, "Although I do not set aside any funds for it, I would support the Legislature allocating a small amount of money to help DPS retool its recruiting strategy and modernize its training methods and criteria related to its trooper school. Recruiting and retaining over-the-road troopers is paramount going forward."
Through the years, the 20-week Mississippi Highway Patrol Trooper School has become legendary for its difficulty in terms of both physical and academic demands.
The last school was held in 2015 with funds appropriated by the 2014 Legislature. That school had 45 graduates. Normally, the Highway Patrol trooper school consists of 75 participants with almost an equal number on standby.
In general the goal is to graduate 60 from a school at a cost of $6.7 million for recurring salaries, and to equip them, including an automobile.
"Increasing the number of troopers within MHP would allow for faster response times to traffic crashes and traffic enforcement issues," Poulos said. "Improving response times alleviate traffic congestion, riots, and hostage situations."
In addition to patrolling state and federal highways, the Highway Patrol also is expected to aid local agencies in the events of natural disasters and with other law enforcement needs.

Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal

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